Imagine your passport had to be controlled when traveling from Paris to Amsterdam, from Brussels to Strasbourg, from Frankfurt to Luxembourg. Imagine sitting in the car your head against the window, the long queues to clear customs control. How would life be if the European Union did not exist? Would we miss it, and how would our sense of freedom change?
The Goethe Institute, the Mercator Foundation, and its cultural partners have explored these and other questions related to the notion of freedom across Europe in an ambitious two-year project called, ‘Freiraum – On The State Of Freedom In Europe.’
From the 12th to the 17th of March the experiences and findings collected during these two years are being shared in a series of debates, film screenings, concerts and performances taking place at the ZK/U Center for Art and Urbanistics, Berlin.
On opening day, under the high wooden ceiling of an old storehouse in the Moabit neighborhood, a multidisciplinary panel addressed the idea of how we narrate Europe these days.
“My father voted to leave the EU, even if he migrated from Poland years ago,” said Sarah Grochala, playwright and senior lecturer at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Eurodram Network. “It was as if it was okay for him to migrate and then it was no longer okay for anyone else to do so.”
Grochala expressed the kind of tensions she has experienced in Britain in the current environment of polarization. “I see it in people’s eyes, how they see me as the symbol of everything they stand against. How did we reach this point?”
Her question lingered in the air; the audience shuffled in their seats. On March 12th and 13th, crucial votes are taking place in the UK to determine whether Brexit happens with or without a deal, of whether it is extended. For the time being, uncertainty remains.
Johannes Ebert, Secretary General at the Goethe Institute, spoke about how Europe looked to him after living 15 years abroad. “I had dinner a childhood friend of mine, a French exchange student I met in middle school, and we used to tease each other about how our countries had been foes forever. At at table sat his adopted son from Madagascar, my wife, who is Asian-American, my children, and that moment it became clear to me that several narratives can co-exist in Europe. That’s what makes it so rich.”
A question that has been raised throughout the project is how to bridge the differences with people who do not necessarily agree with the values one has, for example people who hold an anti-migration, anti-diversity stance.
“Should we include people with far-right beliefs in our ’24 hours Europe’ documentary? That was one of the first questions we posed ourselves,” said Britt Beyer, film maker. “And we decided that yes, we also have to include them. Otherwise the documentary will not show the full complexity of European society.”
24H Europe – We are the future (24 Stunden Europa), is a 24-hour expedition into the European continent and to the people who are its future. The program follows 60 protagonists from 25 nations, between the age of 15 and 30.
In the evening there were screenings of films from Sarajevo (Lejla by Sasa Pesevski) about the restricted life Bosnian women currently live; from Krakow (Strajk 88 by Inga Hajdarowicz) about the 1988 steel workers’ strike in Poland; from Belgrade (I am What I am – The Story of Gipsy Mafia) about Roma rap musicians from Serbia who fled the war and move to Germany.